Executives from 12 leading harness tracks are exploring ways to keep the sport's top young stars racing at age four and beyond. The tracks recently met to discuss amending the conditions of their marquee stakes to promote participation to horses that have been sired by stallions at least five years of age.
The goal of the program is to offer fans thrilling match-ups as 3-year-old champions return to race against top older horses. The proposed changes would take effect in 2012 and impact foals born 2010 and later. Provisions would be made for stallions with limited or no starts at three due to injury.
The exploratory committee includes representatives from The Meadowlands, Harrah's Chester, Dover Downs, Freehold, Tioga, Vernon, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, The Meadows, Harrington, Balmoral, Maywood Park and Delaware County Fair (home of the Little Brown Jug). Much of what was discussed by the tracks was originally presented by racing columnist Bill Finley (How to keep racing's stars on the track, June 18, 2007, ESPN.com).
Industry leaders and racing fans have long lamented the early retirement of its Standardbred stars. Fans will never forgetJenna's Beach Boy's battles with Riyadh during his 4-year-old campaign at the Meadowlands. Many other top sophomores have gone on to lucrative seasons at four, including, , , and . And this year Curlin proved to be a big draw in Thoroughbred racing as he traveled the world to defend his Horse of the Year title.
With the challenges the industry faces - declining attendance and handle, dwindling media coverage and decreasing horse sales - the committee felt that it is the appropriate time to explore and implement change. The racetracks welcome input from all facets of the industry on the proposed condition changes. The representatives will meet in early 2009 to further explore the program.
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